Gauging public love for Bong Go

We go by the norms of the Duterte playbook before each election that repeats two contrasting refrains: “I will run” and “I will not run.” It is said to be an effective Dutertist strategy that keeps him in the public’s top of mind. The playbook is now applied in the run for the presidency of his former utility man Bong Go. A Duterte lieutenant went to the extent of dividing an old martial law era political party into two to nominate Duterte as vice presidential candidate and Go as president.

In the meantime, what public indicators can we consider as current? Suppose we discard survey polls and go by another way?

Last August 14, Senator Bong Go almost figured in a helicopter accident on his way to Basilan. News of the near mishap that could have taken his life was first aired on AM radio station DZRH next day Sunday. He said he was on his way to the island province in southern Mindanao to inaugurate two new “Malasakit Centers.” Were reactions from netizens a fair indicator of his fall from grace (pun not intended)?

A national daily posted the news of the near accident on its social media account. The news was titled “Chopper bearing Senator Go figures in near accident on way to Basilan.” As of early this week, the post generated 4,700 reactions and 1,800 comments. But the reactions showed an intriguing slant. These were strictly confined to only two emojis: thumbs up and haha, shorthand for “like” and “laughing face.” What meanings did readers try to approximate with their emojis?

Let us be objective. “Like” can mean either a thumbs up for having been saved from an accident (makes one feel good, hence an empathy emotion) or thumbs up for having been in a near fatal accident that could have taken his life (makes one feel bad it didn’t happen, hence a negativity emotion). “Haha” can also go both ways: happy he was saved, or happy he was in an accident. Facebook provides its own summary of reaction uses, but because we live in a very relative world that makes sense of symbols depending on perceptions and intentions, there is no pigeonhole for these emojis.

The comments, on the other hand, were generally harsh to Go. Not a few said “Sayang” (Too bad the accident didn’t happen). One immediately said it was a bait for sympathy votes, even if the chopper’s pilot was also interviewed and confirmed the near accident: “Kumita na yan. Gawa ng ibang gimik” (That gimmick has already been tried. Try another one).

One demanded a selfie photo of Go inside the chopper. “Diba mahilig sya mag selfie?” (Isn’t he fond of selfie photos?). Go was quoted by the article to have said: “By the grace of God and Allah – I was going to Basilan yesterday – I was safe . . . I thought it was the end for me. For me, as your public servant, it would be an honor to die while serving our countrymen.” This part elicited numerous reactions.

“Telling a near death experience if it were true is enough. Adding a self serving quote ‘dying in the service of our countrymen’ reeks of drama and hypocrisy,” said poster H.M., generating 1,000 likes.

User B.D.L. added: “Is it heroic dying for cutting ribbons using taxpayers money in far away places amidst pandemic while election is fast approaching?” It elicited 274 thumbs up and haha emojis.

“You need not die to give honor to the country; just don’t run for any position next time and it’ll be the greatest honor you can give!” User J.S.’s post received 75 likes.

User T.G.’s comment elicited 43 likes. “One precious life to live for God’s glory, but detestable to use His name in vain. Mr. Go, please be reminded; with God, nothing is hidden even your secret agenda.”

That of user D.J. elicited 241 likes. “Keep safe po. Please do not forget po that we are still in the pandemic and that movements of individuals should be minimized to what is essential. You are a senator, you don’t need to go to Basilan for the Malasakit Center opening. Those centers can start operating even without the ceremonial ribbon cutting and presence of a senator. So I think it is not an essential travel.”

Notice that these reactions were from what appeared to be legit accounts with profile photos, not troll accounts. Also, comments were not being repeated in copy-and-paste fashion the way troll army accounts do.

Some users preferred to read omens. J.F. said, “Let the warning be recognized. Repent is the key!” C.E.E. said, “warning… fame and power all fancy glory.”

One can hardly find a sympathy comment for Go. There were but very few. At the same time, one finds it difficult to choose which were the harshest.

From one J.Q.: “I’d mourn every second you live not serving the people than any new news of your passing. You’re a pestilence and shameless for inventing a tragedy just to hold sway people’s sympathy and support. Pagod na kami sa kainutilan niyo, wag na kayong magdagdag ng fabricated drama (We are tired of your uselessness, do not add to the fabricated drama).”

From E.Y.: “Hey, you can’t die in a plane crash. That’s cheating. You have to face trials first.”

One R.R.E.S. takes the cake for his humor: “Manong Johnny is that you???” (The post references Johnny Ponce Enrile’s controversial claims on his alleged 1972 ambush.)

By the way, the paper that reported the news never offered any information if the chopper was government-owned or privately owned. Either way, there would have been questions to answer.

To shoot for the presidency, senator Bong Go will have to make very severe changes to be taken seriously. As of today, it would appear he is simply seen as a court jester.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.